Premier League academies have left their German rivals far behind, according to Borussia Dortmund boss Michael Zorc, with Bundesliga clubs now scouting British talent in the hope of unearthing future stars.
Bundesliga leader Dortmund plays Tottenham Hotspur on Wednesday at Wembley in an intriguing Champions League last 16 tie with Jadon Sancho, 18, a regular in the German side following his successful move from Manchester City in August 2017. Dortmund’s domestic rivals are attempting to develop a Sancho of their own.
Welsh winger Rabbi Matondo, 18, joined Schalke last month and England youth internationals Reiss Nelson, 19, and Emile Rowe-Smith, 18, have both quit Arsenal for loan spells at Hoffenheim and RB Leipzig respectively. Even Bayern Munich is following the trend by attempting to lure England U-19 forward Callum Hudson-Odoi from Chelsea.
Zorc says it is becoming harder to discover talent in Germany, leaving Bundesliga clubs looking overseas and scouring the academies of Premier League clubs. “As a German club, we would favour, of course, identifying and signing German talent or developing them in our academy,” said Dortmund’s sports director.
“But when it gets to absolutely top talents, it’s more and more difficult to find them in Germany, to be honest.”
‘They overtook us’
For a while, Germany's best youngsters often headed to England, attracted by big salaries in the Premier League, which enjoys a higher global profile. Leroy Sane, still only 23, was the last German starlet to make the grade when he left Schalke for Manchester City in August, 2016.
Since then, the trend has reversed with British youngsters, no longer content to sit on the bench of Premier League clubs, trying their luck in the Bundesliga. “Go back say five to ten years, there was a time that English clubs were keen to sign German players,” said Zorc.
“But in the meantime, we have the feeling that the education and development of youth players in the English academies is quite good, to be honest. The teams don’t only spend much money on transfers or salaries, but also on infrastructure. When you see these youth academies — for example Man City — you can’t compare it with the German standard, it’s much higher.
“And also it seems to me that it’s something like a business model, because even if they don’t succeed in their own teams, they sell them for higher prices. I just read a figure of Man City — I think they have sold young players for more than 150 million within the last three to five years. You can see it also in results. You know the English teams are reaching U-17, U-19 (finals) compared to the German ones.
“It seems to me that they overtook us.”
Emphasis on youth
Will Brexit, Britain’s decision to leave the European Union, have an impact on teenagers moving to Germany? “I don’t know,” said Zorc. “Nobody knows. When you watch what has happened in the last six months, there are a lot of German clubs who are looking at England.”
Only four of the current squad — captain Marco Reus, Mario Goetze, Jacob Bruun Larsen and Marcel Schmelzer — are products of Dortmund’s academy. The number is lower at Bayern Munich where Thomas Mueller and Austria’s David Alaba are the only first-team regulars to have graduated from the academy.
Zorc says the club recruited Sancho by offering him a clear chance to play first-team football and the English teen has seized the opportunity with eight goals and 13 assists in 28 games this season. He scored once, played a key role in two more goals and hit the post in Saturday’s 3-3 draw at home to Hoffenheim.
There is a clear emphasis on youth as regulars Sancho, Chelsea-bound Christian Pulisic, Dan-Axel Zagadou and Larsen are all U-21. “I think the most important thing is not to make promises you can’t keep,” said Zorc. “We don’t say ‘you are going to play, definitely’, we say ‘there will be opportunities’. We have a clear structure, but you can often look at our team sheet and see how many young players play each Saturday — not just in cup games, but big matches, including the Champions League.”
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